Immigration lawyers, including this blogger, have attended liaison meetings with the USCIS California Service Center and its predecessor agency, INS, for decades. These meetings have been periodically convened (typically on at least a quarterly basis) since the agency was first housed, decades ago, in San Ysidro CA just inside the U.S. border with Tijuana (the facility was then known as the INS Western Adjudication Center — hence the answer to the trivia question of why receipt numbers for this office begin with “WAC”).

In the 1980s, lawyers and agency leaders alike could look out the WAC’s window at the border and literally see foreign citizens assemble, as dusk approached, preparing to hop the easily surmounted fence. Yet, even then INS officials could appreciate the difference between legal immigration and illegality. We were allies in a common effort to make the legal immigration system work fairly.

If trends developed suggesting problems in adjudications or clear Service errors, the old INS and many previous CSC directors and assistant center directors would invite the submission by immigration lawyers of sample cases so that supervisors could maintain quality control. Indeed, one of the grounds for requesting and receiving an expedited adjudication, according to the CSC policy guidelines, was “clear service error” in a prior decision.

At Wednesday’s CSC “external stakeholders” liaison meeting, however, the published answer to item # 2 on the formal agenda showed that the times clearly have changed. Citing 8 C.F.R. § 103.5(a)(5) which authorizes the USCIS to reopen or reconsider a decision at the instance of the agency adjudicator, item # 2 asked how an applicant for an immigration benefit could invoke the regulation where the initial decision involves an obvious mistake by USCIS. The succinct answer — file a motion with the proper fee. The fee for a motion to reopen or reconsider is $585.

To be sure, a footer on the published minutes made clear that the answers provided are merely the individual opinions of the officials present at the liaison meeting and do not necessarily reflect the policies and interpretations of USCIS. Still, in these straitened times, it sure seems like price gouging when an agency with the word “Services” in its title appoints officers who cannot acknowledge their own clear mistakes without shaking down the public by demanding almost six Ben Franklins.